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Movie Review: The Long Walk

It takes a delicate touch to cross genres, to marry them and then keep them in harmony to get at something different. Mattie Do’s The Long Walk achieves this in truly impressive ways, finding success in the subtleties of the horror and sci-fi genres she uses for her story rather than in their loudest components. The film—a Laotian production—truly is an achievement, and it does something movies in general should aspire to do more of: broaden the scope of storytelling.

The Long Walk is essentially a ghost story that’s in league with time travel. An old man (played by Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) is followed around by a young female ghost (Noutnapha Soydara) that can take him fifty years into the past to when his mother died a slow a very painful death in their house in rural Laos. The old man starts interacting with his younger self (Por Silatsa) with good intentions at heart, but the consequences of meddling in one’s own past turn out to bear a high and strange cost.

It’s a slow burn of a story that gives viewers time to consider the old man’s actions, especially in how well-intentioned he seems to think they are. Given how heavily it focuses on the old man and his younger kid version, the experience is profoundly personal. The audience spends a lot of time with the character at his most intimate and it makes for a study that feels intensely raw but always honest.

It’s important to note that the movie offers no clear answers and offers no real path to judging its main character. As we become aware of what the old man’s intentions are, new questions start claiming their stake in the story, all while making the unique situation the character is in become progressively disturbing.

It’s fortunate, then, that the performances are so good. Chanthalungsy and Silatsa never stop being fascinating to watch. They make the most with the pacing of the story by taking their time to methodically develop the emotional arcs that get tangled together throughout the movie.

I appreciated how uncomplicated the whole time travel component was. There are no hard sci-fi concerns here regarding paradoxes or collapsing universes. A change in the past is a change in the present. What it all means, though, is where the game’s at. Mattie Do accentuates this visually with changes to the old man’s house as markers of time manipulation.

The house itself functions like a character in its own right, or an extension of the old man’s spirit and personality. We spend enough time in it to get a good sense of its secrets. Any change to the things in it are important, adding layers of consequence to the old man’s decisions.

There’s definitely more of an interest in the ghost part of the equation rather than the sci-fi one. If anything, the time travelling is more a means to an end, a vehicle for the ghost story to reach alternate destinations within the narrative. One thing that stuck out was the decision to set the story in a not too distant future. It takes an approach to the future much like the one the movie Logan (2017) takes with its focus on small futuristic leaps instead of full macro shifts in society. Technological progress is evident but measured.

The Long Walk’s Laos is not governed by holograms, lasers, or spaceships. Its sci-fi elements are in the little things, the kind that make a dent in everyday life. Watches, bank accounts, and other functions, for instance, are integrated into human bodies through chips and are displayed on the skin. Solar energy is forced unto the countryside as well, which frames technology as an imposition that threatens established ways of life that might not need the upgrade.

Mattie Do has put a very complex, unique, and important film out into the world. The Long Walk offers a flexible blueprint for new storytelling possibilities and it should be discussed for the things it does with the genres it plays with. If the future holds more movies like this, then horror and sci-fi will be ushered into a whole new age of story.